The Train: The amazing true story behind Burt Lancaster’s World War II action epic

The Train Theatrical Trailer (1964)

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Back in 1964, John Frankenheimer’s American-French production The Train hit cinemas. The World War II movie was set in August 1944 and followed French Resistance fighter Paul Labiche, played by Burt Lancaster, taking on Paul Scofield’s German Colonel Franz von Waldheim. The Nazi officer’s mission was to move stolen works of art by train back to Germany.

The Train was loosely based on 1961 non-fiction book Le front de l’art by Rose Valland, who was the art historian at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume.

She documented the masterpieces in storage there that had been looted by the Nazis from French museums and private art collections to be taken back to Germany.

In real life, the shipment was indeed held up by the French Resistance on August 1, 1944.

However, unlike the action in the Burt Lancaster movie 20 years later, the Nazi’s plan was foiled by endless paperwork and red tape, meaning the priceless works only made it a few miles outside of Paris.

In real-life, train No 40,044 was seized and looked over by Lt Alexandre Rosenberg of the Free French forces just outside the capital city.

Once the doors of the carriage was open he found several works of art that had been owned by his father, art dealer Paul Rosenberg.

The Train movie’s action featured a number of real wrecks and the Allied bombing of a rail yard was made possible thanks to actual dynamite.

Director Frankenheimer believes The Train to be t he last big action movie that was shot in black and white, which he thinks tremendously added to the final product.

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Lancaster himself had played a part in World War II by joining the US Army in January 1943.

The actor performed with the 21st Special Services Divisions, following troops on the ground and providing USO entertainment for the sake of morale.

After serving under General Mark Clark’s Fifth Army in Italy from 1943-1945 he was discharged in October after the war’s end.

In 1952, Lancaster played Capitan Vallo in The Crimson Pirate, which was Disney’s original inspiration for Captain Jack Sparrow before Johnny Depp came on the scene.

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Lancaster was best known for playing tough men with tender hearts and Capitan Vallo was a dashing gentleman of a swashbuckler.

The character was a Robin Hood of the seas, more of an anti-hero Captain American than Depp’s take in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Of course, despite Disney’s concerns over the direction he was taking the character, Captain Jack turned out to be a huge hit.

In fact, before starring in four more Pirates movies, the star was nominated for an Oscar for the role in the first outing.

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